‘Canada’s Drag Race’ Season 4, Episode 3 recap: Heartbeats, heartbroken

A pre-season favourite goes home far earlier than we expected

In reality television, the declaration that “This is a competition” is one of the oldest tropes around. It’s meant to be a disclaimer of sorts for underhanded or otherwise strategic behaviour—that because this is a battle for a prize at the end, tactics and tricks are necessary in a way they wouldn’t be outside of this environment. I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a “This is a competition” drop this season on Canada’s Drag Race, considering the Golden Beaver (which is brown) is encouraging more strategic gameplay among the queens.

But I bring it up this week to think about it more literally: Drag Race is a competition. I know sometimes it can feel like a staged drag pageant (looking at you, All Stars 7 finale), but at the end of the day, this format is genuinely meant to find and reward one of the most exciting drag stars of the moment. And on balance, I think it’s done a very good job in that mission! I can quibble with winner choices here and there, and some have aged poorly as we’ve learned more about them in the years since. But launching superstars like Raja, Jinkx Monsoon, Bianca Del Rio, Bob the Drag Queen, Symone, Priyanka, The Vivienne and many, many more is a testament that this format really does work.

That doesn’t mean it works for everyone, though. My biggest concern with Drag Race’s exponential growth has always been that its monopoly doesn’t allow other forms of drag content to rise to the surface. The only one that I would argue has captured anywhere near a sizable amount of audience interest is Dragula, which is also a competition program. And while many queens do well in a competition—and considering drag has a lot of its roots in the pageant world, so it’s not a stretch to make them compete—it’s not the form that all queens thrive in. Without alternatives, it feels like we’re throwing queens who are incredibly charismatic, charming and watchable into a format that drains all of that away from them.

Case in point: The Girlfriend Experience, this week’s eliminated queen. Watching TGE for even a moment in the premiere would be enough to convince you that this woman is a fucking superstar. She’s beguiling, entertaining, vulnerable and transfixing. But it took speaking one line in the QV-She challenge for her to break, and she’s basically been unable to participate in the competition since. This episode spells her heartbreaking doom, and while watching I just kept wondering why we don’t have a format that can give a queen like her their proper spotlight.

 

Venus improvises it up with Traci Melchor in a press junket mini-challenge Credit: Courtesy Bell Media

But I’m getting ahead of myself. This week’s maxi-challenge is to headline the new drag music festival, “Oh-She-Gaggin’,” as part of a girl group. This is one of those girl group challenges where the songs are oh-so-slightly different: they’re the same tune, but one is called “Heartbeat” and the other “Heartbreak.” They’re meant for verses that represent different sides of the same romantic coin: love and loss.

Melinda Verga and Luna DuBois are our team captains—an interesting reversal of fortune, since they were the two bottom two dwellers alongside the departed Sisi Superstar in the first two episodes. Melinda grabs Kiki Coe, last week’s challenge winner Kitten Kaboodle and TGE quickly, while Luna goes for first-challenge winner Venus, the so-far-safe Aurora Matrix and Nearah Nuff. This leaves Aimee Yonce Shennel and Denim as the last to be picked, and Denim very much doesn’t want Melinda to pick her. She gets her wish, as Melinda goes with Aimee, and Denim winds up with a powerful advantage: getting to pick the song for her team. She goes with “Heartbeat,” and thus the newly christened Love Bugs get the peppier song.

Meanwhile, the older-skewing team (as Venus notes with a jab) gets “Heartbreak,” and they fashion themselves as the Vixens. There’s a bit of setup for a potential underdog story here, as TGE notes that the Love Bugs have a lot of “control freaks” on their team. But in the recording and choreography sessions, it becomes pretty clear that this is a fake-out. The Love Bugs are simply better suited for this challenge, and Melinda’s drill instructor approach to choreography for her team is actively detrimental.

TGE in particular struggles hard with the choreo, and expresses anxiety around her dysphoria with her voice in the recording session. It’s a shame, because she really has some terrific lyrics—I’m not surprised she succeeds most when the focus isn’t all on her competing. But lyrics are just one part of the challenge, and it seems like she’s set up to fall hard on elimination day.

The Love Bugs, singing their song “Heartbeat,” are the winning team this week Credit: Courtesy Bell Media

Lo and behold, the Vixens do indeed fall apart during their performance of “Heartbreak.” Melinda performs enthusiastically, but her lyrics are unsubtle and her vocals are blunt. Kiki fully does not know the words to her own song, and they’re uninspired anyway. TGE struggles with the choreography, as expected, and basically looks terrified throughout. Kitten fumbles her way through the choreography, and she, too, does not know her own lyrics. Only Aimee emerges unscathed from the car crash, delivering a ferocious, Spanglish verse fueled by her feelings towards her ex. She lands in the top despite her team’s otherwise dismal performance, and it’s a testament to just how great she is by contrast.

The Love Bugs have their own struggles: Denim also has trouble with her words, Luna’s low-energy and Aurora pulls out a truly sad duck-walk. (The solo dancing throughout is pretty lackluster, honestly.) But their unity as a group and overall stronger verses make them the clear winning team. Denim gets high marks for her verses, while Nearah dances the best of anyone this week and Venus remains an incredibly compelling performer.

Aurora ultimately wins the challenge, and I mostly get it. Her verse is good, she performs it well, and besides her duck walk, she doesn’t embarrass herself while dancing. She also pulls out a cool take on the Sunglasses at Night runway category, wearing a dress that actually attaches to her mask-like sunglasses. And while this challenge is not judged in teams (which: why?), I can understand why the winner should really be someone from the Love Bugs. However, I’d have given this win to Aimee instead, as I thought she was the best performer across both teams.

But Aurora has been cresting toward a win so far, and this feels like as right a time as any. This is the kind of win that I can both not agree with but also not quibble with. She’s clearly one of the strongest contenders this season, and even if she wasn’t my personal pick, I understand her victory as representative of her team.

The six queens who represent the tops and the bottoms of the week await their critiques Credit: Courtesy Bell Media

The bottom three are Kitten, TGE and Kiki, and Aurora has three interesting directions to take this. Kitten did just win, which means she might again be in the place to save Aurora with the Golden Beaver, but they seemingly don’t have much of a relationship. Meanwhile, Kiki is also likely to land in the top again—with her runways alone!—so there’s value to saving her. Meanwhile, Aurora notes, TGE is a friend, and she could just keep landing in the bottom. So there could be merit to keeping her in as a shield.

In the end, Aurora hands that brown Golden Beaver over to Kiki, which strikes me as the correct call. TGE and Kitten are left to lip sync, both dressed as dominatrixes for the runway. It’s a fitting pairing! And Kitten, for her part, really goes for it. She’s proving to be a remarkably able performer, which is why her disappointing performance in the challenge is all the more shocking. Perhaps she’s better on the fly than she is with choreography.

TGE, unfortunately, just can’t get out of her own way. Like we saw in the QV-She challenge and this week’s improv mini-challenge, she has a tendency to freeze up and just stop performing. There are whole swaths of this performance in which she just stops lip syncing. It’s evident that she’s going to go from very early on in the song. It’s a bummer to see her eliminated, but it’s an understandable decision.

Yet I once again find myself flummoxed by this. Drag Race is designed to find the best queens and elevate them to superstardom. And as I said, this usually works out well! But if a queen as obviously a star as TGE can’t find success here, does that point to a way the format is failing? I’m not sure—but what I do know is that the second someone finds a way to make a huge platform for queens like her they will have cracked the code. The world of drag is vast and wide, and queens with this much potential deserve their platform, too.

Untucking our final thoughts

Aimee says at the start of the episode that she didn’t connect with Luna’s lip sync last episode, implying Sisi did better and should have stayed. I don’t agree with Aimee, but I admire her bringing a bit of spice! Drag Race usually enforces the narrative that the judges were correct in picking their lip sync winner (which is why moments like when the contestants all would’ve awarded Jax over Mistress Isabelle Brooks are so shocking). It makes sense that queens would have different preferences while watching lip syncs, and I like that we see this without it becoming some major drama.

I love when you can tell the queens have had a bit of a filming break by some of the queens suddenly sprouting facial hair.

Some interesting Golden Beaver strategy talks happen in this episode, as Nearah offers to forge alliances and makes clear that she’s going to put competitors in the danger zone if she gets the chance. “Fuck fairness!” Meanwhile, if I had to guess, Aurora’s decision to save Kiki is rooted in realizing Kiki is more likely to be in the top in the future—and thus may come to return Aurora’s favour. While her idea to keep TGE around to continually fall into the bottom is an interesting one, keeping a shield in is a scary prospect. If you set that standard, and suddenly you find yourself in the bottom with her and a big lip sync threat, you’ll be regretting that decision.

Bless Traci Melchor, as she’s fun in the improv exercise and continues to improve as a judge, but her hosting … She always reminds me of MsMojo. I do still wish Canada’s Drag Race would embrace what works best and have Brooke Lynn do all the hosting segments.

Speaking of the improv, that mini-challenge? Woof. I am frankly terrified of what Snatch Game with this crew is going to be like. Melinda winning for going over-the-top is an odd choice to me—I’d have gone with Aurora instead. Meanwhile, Denim and TGE cannot improvise at all, and a lot of the cast isn’t much better. Yikes!

Singer-songwriter Rêve is the mentor and guest judge this week! If you weren’t familiar with her, but that name still sounds oddly familiar, you likely remember her song “CTRL + ALT + DEL” as the lip sync song from Kimmy Couture and Vivian Vanderpuss’ battle. I really like her as a mentor, with specific notes to help queens’ delivery and lyrics. Her note to Aurora to edit is likely what snatches her the win. She’s not quite as great as a judge, and in at least one case (with Kiki), her suddenly having a note on a queen’s lyrics just raises the question of why she didn’t bring it up before. That aside, she’s a lovely presence, and I will be streaming “Tongue.”

With love in the air, there’s lots of talk at the mirror about the queens’ relationship statuses. Denim and Nearah both open up about their partners, with Denim getting some space to discuss being in a “T4T” relationship with another trans person. On the other hand, Aimee was married for over six years, and just got divorced before the show. But she is on the market, and she is going to let you know! (I love Aimee.)

“God, Brooke Lynn looks amazing.” There, now paste that into every one of my recaps for the rest of the season. Seriously, who is doing host fashion like her?

We’ve had so much to discuss in the last few recaps that I haven’t properly celebrated the grand return of “I Bring the Beat” as the runway song! This was last featured as the regular runway theme in the American series’ Season 5, and it gets me pumped every single time. “Commence! Shake! Down!” Chills!

Nothing on TV brings me quite as much joy as the judges’ telepathic nodding before every lip sync decision. Even though the COVID-era plexiglass screens are down! Never change this, Canada’s Drag Race, I beg you.

The next episode of Canada’s Drag Race will be available to stream on Thursday, Dec. 6, at 9 p.m. EST on WOW Presents Plus in the U.S. and on Crave in Canada. You can subscribe to our drag newsletter, Wig!, for exclusive Drag Race content delivered straight to your inbox every Tuesday afternoon.

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